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SCMA speaks on Public Consultation on Improvement Measures of the Voter Registration System

     Following is the transcript of remarks (English portion) by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, on the Public Consultation on Improvement Measures of the Voter Registration System at a media session today (January 16):

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: In response to the earlier public concern on the residential addresses declared by electors, we have taken prompt action to review the existing voter registration system, and a number of improvement measures have been proposed. We discussed this issue with Legislative Council (LegCo) Members at the Panel on Constitutional Affairs meeting in December 2011 and during a LegCo motion debate.

     In general, LegCo Members supported introducing measures to improve the accuracy of the residential addresses recorded in the voter register. Some Members were also concerned that some proposed measures may affect the public. The voter registration system concerns the 3.56 million registered electors and other eligible persons. We agree that we should assess the implications carefully.

     After considering Members' views, we have implemented four immediate measures to improve the existing system. Firstly, we have enhanced checking. The Registration and Electoral Office (REO) has started sending inquiry letters asking registered electors to provide address proof. Secondly, the REO will enhance publicity by issuing letters to all registered electors, appealing to them to report change of their residential addresses after moving. Besides, we will also remind the public to return to the REO any letters that are wrongly delivered, so that they can take follow-up action. Thirdly, we have enhanced the cross-matching exercise. The REO will conduct a full-scale data matching exercise with the Housing Department and the Housing Society to verify the accuracy of the registered addresses of electors as contained in the register; and fourthly, the REO will conduct additional checks on lists of demolished buildings and buildings to be demolished. The REO will send inquiry letters starting from next month.

     Meanwhile, we have just issued a consultation paper today, to consult the public on certain fundamental proposals which involve legislative amendments. The consultation also attempts to examine how to strike a balance between maintaining the accuracy of the registration particulars of the electors and protecting the voting rights of the public.

     The consultation paper invites public views on the following six questions:

(1) whether to introduce a requirement that address proof should be provided upon new applications for registration and for change of addresses;

(2) whether to introduce a penalty for registered electors who fail to report change of addresses;

(3) whether the existing statutory deadlines for voter registration should be amended;

(4) whether the voter register for public inspection should also set out electors in accordance with principal residential addresses, in addition to the current practice to set out electors by their names;

(5) whether to require an elector to produce the poll card at the polling station before he or she can cast a vote; and

(6) whether the existing offences under the Electoral Affairs Commission Regulation on false declaration should be transferred to the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance as corrupt conduct or illegal conduct and be enforced by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

     For details, please refer to the consultation document we have just issued. The consultation period will end on March 2. The Administration will consider the views received carefully in finalising the proposed improvement measures.

Reporter: I have two questions. Firstly, is this public consultation really necessary? You know there are problems, why don't you just change them? You mentioned that you want to strike a balance between the accuracy and the voting right of the public. Aren't they one and the same thing and shouldn't we plug the loophole? Why are we waiting? My second question is: you are asking for the views by March while we are going to see the Chief Executive Election in March, how can we be sure that the Government is actually going to do something and not just pass this off?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: In Hong Kong, as we are a very open and transparent Government, we should not introduce any new policy measures, especially those which involve legislative amendments, and unilaterally implement them without fully consulting the general public. For matters such as voter registration, it affects not just some administrative measures but the fundamental right of each of our citizens in casting their vote. Therefore, we feel it necessary that we should have a consultation for those measures which are more serious and which involve legislative amendments. I believe this is also a general sentiment that I received during the legislative discussions.

     On your second question about the impending Chief Executive Election, I don't think that our current exercise would unduly affect that particular election. What we are now doing is to pave the way for the voter registration cycle to begin sometime in April or May for the coming LegCo election to be held in September. So we still have some time to plug any loophole, to take your term.

Reporter: You were talking earlier on about a phased approach - implementing the easier first and the more controversial ones later. But obviously, such a phased approach might introduce some confusion in the minds of voters as on what exactly their responsibilities are and exactly what the penalties are. Ahead of a very crucial LegCo election later on this year, obviously confusion is not something that the administration wants to ferment in the electorate. So how are you going to address the necessary confusion that would come in having some measures now and some measures later?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: As far as address proof is concerned, I think there shall be no confusion at all because whether it is on the existing legislative framework or on some enhanced measures that we have introduced, and some further measures that we are consulting with the public, the essence is for all citizens, eligible voters, to come forward with accurate, truthful information that reflect accurately their personal particulars. On this particular point, there is no question of confusion at all.

     The question comes in when we say what kind of address proof that is necessary for the authority, that is the REO, to satisfy themselves that such applications are correctly filed, and therefore the relevant eligible voters will become "voters" and their names will be put on the register and it is for that particular matter that we are now consulting the public. But the message that I have been trying to project to the public is that whenever any citizen would have to move their house or apartment and that their addresses would change, they should come forward and file a new form to the REO as soon as possible. I hope that also next month when we send out 3.56 million letters to each and every existing voter and potential voter, that they would also be reminded by the Government to do so as soon as possible.

Reporter: On the number of people involved in electoral fraud in the recent elections, do you have any more numbers for us?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: As far as I know, by the deadline, the court has received a total of 10 election petitions. Out of the 10 election petitions, four involved claims on voter registration. The other six are on matters or issues relating to some other matters and not voter registration. As these election petitions are now with the Court of First Instance, I am not in a position to comment further but only to provide such data to you today.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Monday, January 16, 2012